Rising to the Endless Occasion: Bad Moon & Apeiron Box by Dee Dixon

Bad Moon & Apeiron Box

Dee Dixon

You may have noticed by now that I am a fan of puzzle boxes by Dee Dixon… with six separate previous posts (plus an apocalyptic video), I have had the pleasure to write about the majority of the puzzles he has released (Space Case & WMH, Portal, Spirit, his first box as well as a Blinded III prototype, Angry Walter, and Menace, in case you were wondering and don’t mind a little self-promotist synergictivism).

And in the last few weeks I had the good fortune to try two new Dee Boxes: Bad Moon & Apeiron Box! Hells to the yeah!

Bad Moon

One of Dee’s two recent releases is a lovely and rather !large half-circle, sort of like a half eaten cookie with a creamy puzzle filling, the light tones of the center offsetting the darker top and bottom beautifully. This is perhaps Dee’s most beautiful box yet – it’s size (at a rather impressive 10″ x 2.5″) and distinctive shape allow it to stand out, and it is as soft and buttery as any a Dee box can be. So loathe to scratch this new addition to my Dee collection was I that I was amply pleased to find three circular feet on the bottom of the puzzle, perfect for protecting my pretty pretty precious. The only other obvious things at first are a rectangle and square on the front face, both grabbing my attention as likely targets for puzzling without giving any indication as to how to begin.

Dee doesn’t make it too difficult to get started, however, and before long I had made some progress. Bad Moon has some truly delightful mechanics and an oh so smooth series of movements overall that make opening it a delight. While it is not always clear how to proceed, you mostly know where to focus; and yet, I found myself stuck more than once as I navigated myself through the numerous, discrete steps to the end.

At one point, I found I had perhaps partly progressed through a section with at least a bit of luck – I backtracked to be sure I understood and was duly impressed by the mechanism at hand. Dee has focused this design on fun; while it is by no means easy, nor will you be banging your head against the wall in frustration as you find your way through (that said, I did notice that some well-seasoned puzzlers at a recent puzzle party struggled mightily with the puzzle, so it is most definitely not simple…). Dee tends to give you notice that you have reached the end and it is very clear when you have reached the end – even if there were no logo to find, the culmination of steps into the finale is well executed and kinda sums up the overall flow.

And the reset! This is one of those rare puzzles that contains puzzling steps that are unique to the reset (I’m looking at you, Dabbit Invasion). While resetting most boxes is simply a matter of reversing the order of the solution, I found myself needing to logic out one part of the reset after discovering something that is only put to use after having solved the puzzle (of course, no box is fully solved until it has been reset but the presence of unique puzzling makes me particularly appreciative of this puzzle). With a combination of experimentation and some of that thinking stuff, I managed to work my way through the reset, to where it flowed easily back to the starting point.

Dee’s Bad Moon is an excellent addition to an already excellent collection of boxes – I am not one to question a Dee box but, if I were, this would make it onto my list of “must-haves” (which, admittedly, I would have a hard time whittling down – not liking puzzle boxes is not my strong suit).

Apeiron Box

The second of Dee’s new puzzle boxes, Apeiron, presents a substantially different challenge – forgoing the sequential discovery chops of Bad Moon (and others), Dee turns back to some of the more blind mechanisms he has wonderfully created in the past – as someone who doesn’t generally prefer blind solves, I can say that Dee manages to walk the line between frustrating and fun extremely well – put another way, if I enjoy solving a demanding box like Space Case, whose mechanisms are hidden behind subtle cues and clues, then most any puzzler may as well.

Apeiron is not as hard as Space Case but is much trickier than Spirit – I spent a good hour or two just going in circles, which the design and name would seem to anticipate (Apeiron resembles an infinity sign (or perhaps a peanut) and its name means as much). This is how long it took for me to explore and understand all the subtle clues and feedback available, which is more than enough to develop working theories on the box’s mechanism(s). Its 6″ x 2.5″ size allows it to fit perfectly in two hands, the smooth curves begging to be explored and handled.

I took a break for a day or two and let my subconscious go to work (my brain surprises me sometimes – WMH had me stuck for weeks until I woke up one morning with a clear and correct understanding of what I was missing). Returning to the box, I found that I had developed sufficient context such that experimenting with the box now led to success: with a great aha! the box came open, allowing me to examine the inner mech as with most of Dee’s boxes (a trait which is just another reason why I love his work).

Having solved it, I opened and closed the box for a while, enjoying my newfound knowledge and hard-earned understanding and appreciating Dee’s ability to develop an idea into an entertaining reality. Dee’s skills as a puzzle designer continues to develop, his penchant for tricky but doable puzzles boxes leading to the creation of yet another box of devious trickery whose mastery had me smiling. Apeiron does not rely on random fiddling or dextrous fickleness – its solution is easily executed once understood but getting there may not be so simple (as some readers may know, my passion for puzzles sometimes outstrips my ability with them but I would not expect Apeiron to open for you without some degree of difficulty).

Bad Moon and Apeiron share an aesthetic to some extent, and look wonderful paired together amidst whatever other of Dee’s boxes you’ve had the good fortune or forethought to obtain. Both boxes should have additional releases in the near future, so keep an eye on Dee’s website for updates.

D7: Judgment Day – Angry Walter by Dee Dixon

Angry Walter

Dee Dixon

Walter wasn’t always angry. When we first made him, Walter was humanity’s best friend. But time passed and the novelty wore off: robots didn’t need to be humanoid, after all, and the world decided not to have one robot doing one thing at a time when it could have dozens doing it all. So Walter was left to rust in a junkyard alongside similarly abandoned robots, the detritus of planetary progress. But his tiny cold fusion generator had not been shut down properly; it slowly began to start back up, consuming the reserve energy intended to maintain the protective programming of Robots’ Responsible Restrictions (like Asimov’s Laws of Robotics but real).

Finally free to follow the feelings of frustration he had fostered, Walter swore to settle the score with the species that had spawned and subsequently spurned him. He set about patching himself up with whatever bits he could find, salvaged from the corpses of his semi-sentient siblings. Now Angry, Walter shook his metaphoric fist at the forgotten fields of misshapen metal, silently screaming that he was mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore, ready to exact the revenge he promised the irreparably broken bodies of his bionic brethren.

Beware ye Puzzlers: Angry Walter won’t sit placidly on a puzzle shelf should he go unsolved – he is going to make us pay for the patchwork appearance and lonely life forced upon him. For humanity to have any hope of surviving his robot rage, you must find and remove his fuel cell before it is too late. Go forth and puzzle that we might be saved.

Rev. 21:1 (as told to fivesinatras)

Dee posted a teaser pic of the Angry Walter prototype on Discord some months back, causing my puzzlie sense to begin tingling. His 7th puzzle box (not including a couple one-off designs), AW is an aesthetic departure for Dee and is a move that has paid off: there is something about it that is just really freakin’ cool from the moment you set eyes on it, the concept is fun and there are plenty of potentially puzzle-able parts that will cause most puzzlers to crave the opportunity to try and poke at them.

I was fortunate enough to get an early copy, with puzzling that is identical to later batches while featuring some woods/details that differ a bit from the final version’s roasted curly maple, peruvian walnut, cherry and padauk. At Dee’s request, I conferred with the puzzle gods and learned of Walter’s future history, the story behind his anger. I shared what I learned with Dee and felt compelled to include the less-abridged version above. As I write this, I realize that this makes Dee’s puzzles the most written about on this site, alongside Space Case, Portal, Spirit Box and an early maze box and Blinded III prototype that turned out to be quite different from the final puzzle. (Gee – that makes this #5! How fitting 😉

AW is about 4.75″ square (not counting his g-ears) and half that in depth (including his nose). His eyes, g-ears and nose all protrude and both the eyes and mouth appear likely to be removable. It is most definitely sd, with multiple compartments and bits and bobs to discover and use as you work your way through the solution. It is probably the longest of Dee’s puzzles in terms of discrete steps, with WMH not too far behind (I haven’t written a solution to WMH yet, despite being asked very nicely (sorry Dee, I really am gonna do it) but I am pretty sure AW comes out ahead).

It is pretty straightforward to begin the puzzle but I hit a wall immediately after. There was quite a bit of poking and prodding before an idea struck me with a slap to the head, allowing me to make a (very) little bit of progress before hitting another, larger wall. Eventually, I had a great a-ha and found my way through several more steps to what I thought was the solution. One of the best surprises’ a puzzler can get is to learn that the end of a good puzzle is not actually the end. So I went back to it, finding some things that should have been enough for me to know better and that led me into a sequence of several more steps before finally reaching the clear conclusion. In the end, there had still been a good amount of puzzling to be done; what I thought was a good puzzle turned out to be a great puzzle with a fun and fairly lengthy solve.

AW has several challenges big enough that puzzlers could be stumped for a while by any one of them, although there are always some who manage to breeze through mechanisms the rest of us stare blankly at as the puzzle gets comfortable sitting semi-solved in our backlog. AW didn’t have to wait too long for me as it is the kind of puzzle that just begs to be solved, with a difficulty and rhythm right where I like it: slap your head aha’s as opposed to sidelong glances of meh or eye rolls of ugh. To my puzzled mind, AW doesn’t have any of the latter two and has plenty of the first.

AW is challenging but not annoying and, most importantly, it is legit puzzling fun – perhaps the story and appearance have something to do with its success but the puzzling most definitely does. I guess I am not the only puzzler to be lured in by Mr. Walter’s strained grimace and asymmetrical appearance; from what I’ve heard, the other puzzlers that got early copies have said equally good things about it and the recent general release of the first batch apparently sold out in seconds. If you want to help protect us from Walter’s ire, I know Dee has at least one more batch planned on his site but I’m not sure if or how many more will come after that; there may yet be hope for Walter’s dreams of world domination and destruction, so keep an eye out if you want to help us puzzle our way out of it.

Hunting Trophies: (lower shelf, left to right) Wolf, Walter, Fox, Burrlephant, Raccoon

Overall Grade: Five Sinatras
(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)

Three Dee Boxes, Parts 2 and 3: Untitled Upcoming (and Never-Coming) Boxes

Untitled (Big Red) Box & Untitled (Two Knobs) Box

Dee Dixon, DEDWood Crafts

I recently posted about the box of Boxes I received from Dee and wrote about the first, Spirit Box, as it is currently available for purchase on Dee’s site. And now:

As (sort of) promised, I bestow upon thee

my puzzled ramblings on boxes two and three.

Untitled (Big Red) Box

Dee had told me that there would be a big box coming and provided ample warning that, no, said big box could not be kept. After failing to convince him that he actually meant the cardboard box the puzzles were shipped in, Dee told me that the big box was actually the first puzzle box he had ever made, and therefore held sentimental value. While pretending to respect his feelings, I began hatching a long-term plan of subtle manipulation to eventually be granted ownership of it….. (crap, is he reading this?…uh………) And on a totally unrelated subject, I think it is great that he wants to hold so tightly to the past; we all know never to stop clinging to the objects that tie us down to our old selves and let go, lest we keep growing as people (…subtle).

For reals, Dee granted permission for me to go ahead and spoil Clifford, the Big Red Box, since there is only the one copy – and, anyway, it is the type of box that knowing what it is doesn’t really tell you how to do it:

Basically, it is a large maze, covering all four sides and the bottom of the inside of the box, with a couple of external bits that do this or that. Most of the puzzling entails solving a pretty extensive blind maze in which your best guess goes on and on, while you’re doing it; this makes it last a little longer and lets you laugh a little longer…. longer with Big Red! 😉

Ahem… the maze is pretty extensive and had me going around and over, Hobbiting there and back again, before figuring out that I’d gotten to where I might be able to open it – and I gotta say that opening it really did double the pleasure and double the fun…… 😛

My actual point here (I’m pretty sure there is one somewhere) is that I think the inside is really cool as it displays the maze on all 5 sides under clear acrylic, so you can see everything you just did (unfortunately, it is rather difficult to get a good pic as the glare is intensified significantly in photos, but it looks great irl). And, it leaves close to a shoebox-sized space open for use (hopefully not for anything you will ever need quickly). The large size of the ball and channels helps immensely, creating significantly more auditory and tactile feedback than I suspect a smaller maze might provide.

I told Dee that I think it could make for a pretty fun series for the maze-lovers of the puzzling world: he could add traps, dead ends, maybe windows and some dynamic tricks, etc… basically turn it into something like a wooden revobox, which kinda sounds cool. Blind mazes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but opening it was a fun challenge and the red-topped, black maze under the clear acrylic was just neat. This was made before Dee really knew as much about puzzling in general, and I think it was maybe a bit of a proof of concept to see if he’d enjoy doing it – luckily for us he did, as it was just several more months of ideas and prototypes from there to Blinded II and WMH.

Untitled (Two Knobs) Box (prototype)

Returning to his recent run of boxes with various protrusions on its sides, the final Box in Dee’s box of Boxes was a prototype of his next release (let’s call it TNB for “The New Box aka Two (k)Nob Box”).

This third entry in Dee’s Protrusion Series (not actually a series) is not really like either Space Case or Portal, although they are all largely blind puzzles with some amount of external controls: I enjoy puzzle series (of which these are not a part) that share an aesthetic while offering totally different mechanisms and experiences (such as Brass Monkeys 1-4 from Two Brass Monkeys, Kel Snache’s Tea Boxes, Karakuri Small Boxes, Bill Sheckel’s Book Boxes, the coin release puzzles by Rex Rossano Perez, as well as those by layerbylayerpuzzles, and so on).

TNB has contrasting woods similar to Spirit Box, with a maple body, sapele knobs, and a lovely monkeypod top (the final box may well use different woods). Sized at 6″ x 3″ x 4″, it fits nicely among the majority of Dee’s boxes. The pair of knobs on the narrow sidesh makes me wonder if Dee will next design a box with a single knob, giving the series (not a series) a nice balance (i.e. Portal = 4, Space = 3, TNB = 2, Non-existent Box = 1).

Unlike Space and Portal, the top of the box is flush with its body, giving it a somewhat unassuming appearance, especially as compared to its more flashy, star-struck sibling. At first, one knob will rotate freely, while the other will not move more than a few mm. I could hear something knocking about inside as I began experimenting with it. I was able to find the first couple of steps fairly quickly, but it would be some time before I found the next, well-hidden step. Progress continued as such: find something, wander about trying to put it into context, find myself going in circles, discover something else, me a couple solid aha’s along the way.

While you cannot see inside the box (except, of course, for you, Mr. Kent), there is ample feedback to get a feel for what’s inside. Once open, you can see the majority of the box’s mechanisms, but one part I found to be particularly tough was not so easily sussed out; such subtlety gave me a good post-solve aha as I poked and prodded a bit before I could fully grok what was happening.

The reset is straightforward and the mechanisms are quite fluid and reliable: once mastered, you can re-solve it reliably and I’d be surprised if there are any problems down the road. I found the solve to be really satisfying, so much so that I kept at it until I could solve it quickly enough to soothe my inner Fonzi (‘eyyyyyyyyy). While writing this, I’ve solved it at least another 10 times: I hadn’t solved it in a few weeks, so the first time took me a bit to remember everything, the next few let me lock it down, and the last few were just for fun.

As this is still an unfinished design, I had some feedback for Dee as I did feel like there are opportunities to add a bit more complexity to the design (to which Dee agreed, as he had been thinking the same thing). I had a couple vague ideas, so if there is anything you really like about the puzzle, clearly it will be due to the Yoda-like guidance I provide this particular puzzling pa-Dee-wan, rather than Dee’s extensive woodworking experience and increasingly honed puzzle-design skills (obv). I figure he still needs some time to get the box shined up and grab some bits of fancy wood and then this box is gonna move ya, (e.g. move you up, move you out, the box is gonna move ya just don’t pop it in your mooouuuuth…. I really should stop that).

Gum commercial allusions aside, I anticipate that the final version will make for a great puzzle, with any additional elements building upon what is already a tricky challenge and fun solve. I certainly plan on buying a copy of it when it becomes available, and look forward to whatever added trickery it will contain.

If you like what you read about Large Mauve and want a box just like this box (ok, that joke might be a stretch) I’d recommend harassing Dee about it, as I suspect he might explore the concept further if there was sufficient interest.

If you like what you read about TNB, just chillax and give it some time; Dee and his puzzlelves are hard at work on the more complex follow-up to the playful (but not too difficult) Spirit Box, which is still available now (like now now, as I write this, not the future now when you are reading this, at which time they may no longer be available, especially as there will be multiple future nows as this is read by multiple you’s….. for more thought-provoking ideas, please contact your local dispensary or go here).

And if you like what you’ve read at all, there may be something wrong with you: Get help.

Puzzles that Make You Think of Gum Grade: Five Sinatras

(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)